Audi Q3 review
The Audi Q3 is the smallest off-roader in the Audi family, but it's not short of character
The Audi Q3 is no longer the smallest Audi SUV – that mantle was taken by the dinky Q2 in 2016 – but that shouldn't put you off what is still a practical, well-built and desirable crossover.
On sale since 2011, the Q3 rivals cars like the BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA. Its premium feel runs more than skin deep, as the compact Audi 4x4 offers an engaging, fun driving experience and genuine refinement thanks to solid design and engineering. Impeccable Audi build quality is reflected in a cabin that has a truly premium feel, too.
With a full range of safety kit and the desirable ‘four rings’ badge on its nose, the Audi Q3 is unsurprisingly in strong demand. The downsides? This quality doesn’t come cheap – especially if you go to town on the options – and despite its looks, the Q3 isn’t all that capable off-road.
It now sits in between the Q2 and Q5 as Audi's second largest SUV. It's based on the platform of the previous-generation Audi A3, though a facelift in 2015 did add a fresh nose, tidier rear and some added standard equipment. We expect a new model to launch some time in 2017.
The Q3 comes with a choice of two or four-wheel-drive powertrains, the latter featuring a part-time, front axle-biased Haldex system. Larger Audi Q models have Torsen differentials and full-time four-wheel drive.
All engines have been improved over the years, delivering a boost of up to 13.5 per cent in fuel efficiency and lower emissions. There are two petrol options in the standard (non RS) Q3: a two-wheel-drive 148bhp 1.4-litre with Cylinder on Demand technology and an all-wheel-drive 178bhp 2.0-litre. Meanwhile, the diesel line-up comprises a 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI with either two or four-wheel drive and a high-powered 182bhp version.
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All engines come with the choice of a six-speed manual gearbox or Audi’s seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic automatic (although the 1.4-litre petrol has a six-speed S tronic). The high-performance RS Q3 model is the exception, as it’s only available with the auto. This version has recently benefited from a 28bhp upgrade, and now packs 335bhp from its five-cylinder petrol engine, while a 'Performance' variant ups that to a frankly astounding 362bhp.
Below the RS flagship, there are three trim levels on offer – SE, S line Nav and S line Plus – and all are well equipped. Plus, there’s a long list of optional extras to choose from, while customers can personalise their Q3s further through Audi’s Exclusive programme.
Even though it feels German, the Audi Q3 is built at the Martorell factory in Spain owned by sister brand SEAT. Asian market versions are also made in China, and there’s even an Audi Q3 assembly plant in India, proving the SUV has truly global appeal. With the recent facelift, Audi hopes to continue the Q3’s current success – the firm has sold 400,000 examples globally since its launch in 2011.
Engines, performance and drive
Thanks to its strong grip and decent body control, the car-like Audi Q3 feels agile and composed. Better still, its combination of compact dimensions, excellent visibility and well weighted controls helps inspire confidence when threading it down twisty back roads and crowded city streets. In fact, the experience is more akin to hatchback than an SUV.
The standard Drive Select system allows the driver to adjust the steering weight and throttle response – it’s best left in its normal mode, as the Sport setting makes the steering feel artificially heavy.
However, this sharp handling comes at a price: like other compact SUVs, the Audi Q3 suffers from a firm and fidgety low-speed ride. We’d recommend forking out for the adaptive dampers, which deliver a more supple ride. The other obvious trade-off is limited off-road ability, so don’t buy a Q3 if you really want a mud-plugger.
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The diesel engines are a little less refined than the petrol alternatives, particularly when idling or accelerating hard, although wind, tyre and engine noise aren’t intrusive in any version, which makes for very relaxed cruising. Plus, both gearboxes found in the Audi Q3, the twin-clutch S tronic automatic and the standard six-speed manual, are excellent.
When you put your foot down in the Audi RS Q3, the turbo gives a loud whoosh and there’s a race-inspired exhaust note. With Audi’s quattro system delivering 335bhp across all four wheels, the flagship model can sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.8 seconds. Fortunately, the performance is matched by lowered and stiffened suspension that gives the RS Q3 impressive cornering grip and engaging handling.
Standard (non-RS) Audi Q3 models are available with either 1.4-litre or 2.0-litre engines, and both offer decent performance, refinement and economy.
Our choice of powerplant is the 182bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel (there is a less powerful 148bhp version). This serves up the best combination of performance and fuel efficiency in the Q3 range, with claimed economy of 51.4mpg and a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds (when fitted with the S tronic automatic box). CO2 emissions are also quite low, at 143g/km.
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The 1.4 TFSI engine with Cylinder on Demand technology is a new addition to the line-up, and it's a really smooth and powerful unit. It also promises similar fuel economy and CO2 emissions to the diesel models, at 47.9mpg and 136g/km. Plus, because petrol cars are liable for lower company car tax, it's a good choice for business users.
Performance SUV fans get the chance to unleash the same 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine that Audi fits to the TT RS. It makes 335bhp in the RS Q3, coupled with 450Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm, and when combined with sharp throttle response it means the range-topping model feels very fast on the road.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The most economical Audi Q3 is the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel. In front-wheel-drive guise and with a manual gearbox, it claims 62.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 117g/km. This means it sits in road tax band C, so buyers will pay £30 a year in VED.
If you opt for the quattro four-wheel-drive system with the same engine, emissions increase to 129g/km and the official economy figure drops to 57.6mpg. Road tax is bumped up to band D (£110 a year).
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With the exception of the RS Q3, the 2.0 TFSI with quattro four-wheel drive is the most powerful Q3 in the range, but it claims 42.8mpg and 152g/km. The 1.4 TFSI Cylinder on Demand model is a good compromise, with official figures of 51.4mpg and 127g/km.
Buyers with their eyes on efficiency probably won’t be opting for the RS Q3, but the official figure stands at a reasonable 32.8mpg. Drive it hard and that return will plummet, and either way you’ll still be hit with a £290 annual road tax bill (VED band K) thanks to CO2 emissions of 203g/km.
While a strong brand image and great build quality give the Audi Q3 a premium feel, the insurance costs are on a par with SUV/crossover rivals.
The insurance group ratings range from group 20 for the 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol car to group 27 for the 178bhp 2.0-litre petrol. The line-up compares favourably to other similar cars – for example, a 1.6-litre diesel Nissan Qashqai falls into group 19.
Audi RS Q3 owners will naturally face a much bigger insurance hit. A hefty group 37 rating reflects this version’s high-performance potential.
Fortunately, the premium brand image means Audis tend to hold their value well across the board, so expect the Q3 not to depreciate as heavily as some of its rivals.
In fact, a 2014 survey by trade expert CAP put the Audi Q3 at number three in its top 10 list of ‘lowest depreciators’, suggesting owners could look forward to retaining almost 70 per cent of the new cost after three years.
Interior, design and technology
Audi is the master of the corporate look, the Q3 does a good job of utilising the brand's family face. The overall profile will appear familiar to A3 or A4 owners, while the jacked-up body will satisfy the ever-growing crossover market. A facelift in 2014 gave the Q3 a more angular design for the large grille, and it’s finished with satin silver trim that merges with the headlights, giving the Q3 a look similar to the new Q7. However, if you go for white or silver bodywork, the new trim doesn’t stand out.
The slender light housings feature full LED lamps on S line models, while SE versions get xenons. Elsewhere, all cars come with 17-inch alloys, and S line versions add 18-inch rims. There’s a variety of optional wheel designs, too, including chunky 19-inch versions for around £600, which add interest to the Q3’s overall look.
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At the back, S line cars feature strobing indicators – borrowed from higher-end models in the Audi range – but apart from that, you’d be hard pressed to distinguish the updated Q3 from its predecessor.
It’s the same story inside, as the layout is largely unchanged. All cars feature a screen that pops up manually from the top of the dash. Yet while the build quality can’t be faulted and the soft-touch plastics hint at impeccable quality, there are some quirks.
The layout isn’t as easy to get along with as in some of Audi’s newer models, with the air-con controls in particular proving a bit fiddly, as they’re mounted low behind the gearlever. Overall, the interior of the Audi Q3 and the design is beginning to show its age – it’s in stark contrast to the strikingly minimalist dashboard in the Audi A3, for instance.
Generally speaking, the Audi Q3 is very well equipped. Entry-level SE trim cars come with stop/start technology and 17-inch alloys, as well as climate and cruise control, automatic wipers and lights, plus rear parking sensors.
If you opt for the sportier S line version, you also get 18-inch alloys and suspension lowered by 20mm. In addition, it features a power tailgate, scrolling indicators, xenon headlights and sports front and rear bumpers, while inside there are front sports seats embossed with Audi’s S line logo, plus aluminium interior inlays. The Q3 S line Plus trim features 19-inch wheels, Alcantara S line-branded seats and privacy glass.
Go for the RS Q3, and you get the honeycomb grille found on all Audi RS models, as well as a raft of other trimmings to distinguish this model as the most powerful Q3 in the range. Opt for the range-topping RS Q3 Performance version and in addition to the extra horsepower you'll find 20-inch wheels, a Titanium styling pack and special Alcantara seats.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The Q3 uses the more compact MMI cabin control system that’s also found in the A1 supermini. The small rotary controller and shortcut buttons are mounted just under the air vents, but some drivers will have to stretch to reach them, and the system isn’t as intuitive to use as the full-size MMI set-up in other Audis.
However, Audi’s MMI integrated entertainment system is very easy to navigate around, and Bluetooth connectivity and a pop-up 6.5-inch display screen are standard.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Audi Q3 is only available as a five-door, five-seater, and thanks to its more upright body, it’s a more practical choice than the Range Rover Evoque. The high-set driving position gives you a good view of the road and the sports seats are comfortable, but the bus-like angle of the steering wheel feels a bit odd.
In general, for a car that doesn’t take up much more space on the road than the average family hatchback, it’s a very comfortable and pleasingly practical package.
Its roof is 3cm lower than the Evoque’s, but the Q3 stands a significant 114mm higher than the GLA. It’s wider than both cars; the Audi is 2,019mm wide, while the Evoque measures 1,635mm and the GLA 1,804mm wide.
If you’re looking for an ‘in-house’ comparison, the Q3 is 75mm longer, 234mm wider and 183mm taller than the five-door Audi A3 Sportback.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
In terms of passenger comfort, adults are looked after pretty well in the Q3. Two grown-ups will be very comfortable in the back, although a third won’t be quite as much at ease due to the restricted legroom caused by the central transmission tunnel. Isofix child seat mounting points are part of the standard package.
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The elevated ride height makes getting in and out easy, particularly for less athletic occupants, and once inside the high roofline and large side windows ensure the cabin feels bright and airy (even more so if you specify the optional panoramic glass roof). The car also features lots of practical storage space, including large cup-holders and usefully wide door bins.
The boot isn’t the biggest in the crossover class, at 460 litres, but Audi has replaced the fixed parcel shelf with a rolling load cover to boost access. On higher-spec models, you also get a powered tailgate, which opens wide and leaves a flat load lip.
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One criticism levelled at the Audi Q3 could be that while the boot space expands to 1,365 litres, the back seats don’t fold fully flat, so sliding things in and out is unnecessarily difficult. However, if you do need to carry longer items, Audi offers a folding front passenger seat as an option on the Q3.
The maximum towing capacity varies between 1,800kg and 2,000kg, depending on the model.
Reliability and Safety
As the latest Audi Q3 is a mildly updated model, you can expect it to uphold the same strong reliability record as the pre-facelift version. The previous car was the highest-placed Audi in the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, finishing 14th overall, and also ranked third in the SUV chart, behind the Skoda Yeti (third overall) and the Lexus NX (sixth overall). It dropped slightly to 31st in 2016, but that's still a good showing for a six-year-old car.
Owners praised the Q3’s build quality and ease of use, with the only criticisms surrounding its practicality and running costs. It seems unlikely that the facelift will have anything but a positive effect on the scores.
Despite its age, the Audi A3 was awarded a five-star Euro NCAP crash rating, as well as respective scores of 94 and 85 per cent for adult and child occupant protection. As the Q3 is closely related to the premium hatchback, it should prove to be a very safe package as well.
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Six airbags and electronic stability control come as standard, and there's lots of safety equipment on the options list, including blind spot monitoring, as well as Speed Limit Display and Active Lane Assist, which helps to maintain the vehicle’s position in its lane. Further up the range, S line models feature Xenon headlamps as standard.
The Q3 uses plenty of solid materials and feels as though it’s built to last. It also comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and three years' RAC breakdown cover, which should help keep bills to a minimum.
If you want more than three years’ cover from an SUV, you’ll have to look towards the Korean brands – the Hyundai Tucson offers a five-year/unlimited-mileage package, and the Kia Sportage comes with a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty.
The Audi Q3 needs a major service every couple of years or 20,000 miles, with minor check-ups in between. Audi servicing isn’t the cheapest around, with dealers charging £309 and £159 respectively – but that’s the price you pay for the marque’s premium branding and flashy showrooms.